Henry Skeffington, experienced hunter and booking agent, runs through the key factors to consider when booking a hunt with an agent – and why for most international hunting trips it is an extremely good idea!
When planning any trip there is always so much to take into consideration; you have to think about flights, accommodation, packing list, visas, itinerary etc. When you are looking at planning a hunting trip the complications go even further. Whether it is a first time trip for a muntjac, or that once in a lifetime argali hunt, you need to be confident that you are going to the right places, with the right guides, encountering the right animals and, most importantly, doing it within the constraints of the law.
For the hunter at home the challenges are somewhat simpler and have less of an impact. As a result some stalkers will book their hunts direct with the local outfitter; there may be an opportunity to save some money and, should things go wrong, it will be no more than a long drive to go to another estate or farm to find an outfitter to provide you with what you are looking for. Moreover, it will likely have only been a day or two of your time wasted and, in your own country, you will have much more chance of recompense. When you are planning a trip abroad, however, all of the aforementioned factors become far more critical. It’s imperative to get it right first time and this is where the role of an agent becomes invaluable.
For the purposes of this article we will concentrate on the hunter who wishes to book a trip abroad as it covers a broader spectrum of requirements, and the exact same factors can be applied when booking at home.
In my opinion the key to any agency booking is knowledge. The agent must display a great knowledge of the animals and location where the hunt will be taking place. All hunters are interested to learn about the specific species that they are pursuing, the agent should have a lot of information for you on your chosen quarry. He should understand the hunting methods, giving detailed explanation of how the hunting days will work. There should be reasons why he has chosen a specific location for you to conduct your hunt. He should have opinions on the different times in the season for you to hunt, the advantages and disadvantages of each. A lot of agents offer hunts in locations that they have never been to, for animals that they have never seen. In these cases they are offering a hunt with a local outfitter that they have simply met on the internet and have no knowledge whether the hunt is good, legal or just an expensive camping trip! When booking a hunt be aware of this. There are, however, circumstances where the agent may be looking to research a specific outfitter or area that he has not previously used. This is fair enough, as long as he is open and honest with you. Personally I would always offer a hunt in these circumstances at a 10% discount.
As in any business relationship honesty is of the utmost importance. Although the agent should have a great knowledge about your upcoming hunt, he will not know everything, and it is perfectly acceptable for him to ask you to wait a day or two whilst he queries the local outfitter. What you don’t want is for him to ‘blag’ it, giving you wrong information that ends up impacting negatively on your whole hunting experience. Honesty is critical when it comes to trophy quality and the sort of animal you can expect to harvest. If the agent is guaranteeing you animals of a certain size – or for that matter guaranteeing anything – then you should run a mile. Too often I speak to hunters who have ‘booked in an area where they always harvest big animals’ this can never be the case. When hunting, nothing can be guaranteed, and anyone who gives a guarantee is not being honest. If you are expecting a medal quality animal and when you arrive find that these are only shot rarely, you will experience disappointment. And that is something we like to avoid when hunting!
Surprises, other than an animal of a lifetime wandering over the horizon into your field of view, are never a good thing to encounter on a hunting trip. There are often hidden costs in any hunt abroad, and these need to be ironed out and explained at the time of booking and BEFORE any money is taken. On some hunts the locations that you may be trying to access are extremely remote, and it may be necessary to take helicopters or chartered flights. These kinds of costs can add a significant percentage onto the overall cost of the hunt. It is no good the agent taking a deposit for a £4000 hunt, and then telling you that there is an internal flight that you need to take costing £1000. This expense may well push you over your budget meaning that you cannot do the hunt, and then it is up to you to try to get your money back. Of course there are circumstances where costs may change outside the control of anyone involved; visa fees for example or shipping costs for the trophy after harvesting. However, these should not be significant percentage of your overall hunt price, which in turn should not be far out from the agents estimate.
Surprises can always be averted if the agent has fully prepared you for the hunt. In your initial emails you should be learning about your upcoming hunt. He should be volunteering information to you, rather than simply responding in one-liners to your questions. By the time you board the plane to your hunting destination, you should have a fairly good idea about what lies ahead. On one occasion I had a client conduct a successful hunt in a remote location. After his hunt he came across another hunting party who had been on the exact same hunt in the exact same location. They had had a terrible time because they were not prepared for what they would encounter, whereas my hunter had a great experience because he was prepared.
If the hunt is a high mountain hunt then you should have been pre-warned to get in the required physical shape to achieve success. This is probably the one piece of advice that my clients choose to ignore the most, and regret doing so on the mountain. If you are after dangerous game, then you should have been advised on shot placement to ensure that your first shot counts. The hunter should be prepared for the climate, in many of the world’s finest hunting locations the weather and conditions can be extreme at polar opposites – not being prepared for either of these extremes can quite literally be fatal! A good packing list should be sent to you upon booking the hunt.
The factor that is most important to the hunter is price. Everyone wants a good deal, but in all industries you get what you pay for, and the same is true in international hunting. The cheapest hunts on the market are normally the cheapest for a reason. Of course there are always circumstances where cheap hunts can be a great experience, but you are better to have these hunts advised to you by a friend or an agent. Most agents should have a number of options that they can offer you for each hunt; so listen to their advice and follow it. On the other side of the scale there are many out there charging obscene prices for relatively simple hunts. It can be advisable to avoid the most expensive; often they are only expensive because they have increased their profit margins yet offer the exact same hunt. Hunts priced in the mid to lower range are most likely the ones to be worth considering. If you are on a budget tell the agent and see what options they can find for you. I often have enquiries from a prospective client for a high-priced hunt. On discussing the budget and hunt requirements, I am in a position to recommend hunts that fall within it, giving the hunter the experience they are looking for. In some circumstances we can recommend hunts that are similar in experience but below budget.
Ethics and the law
As hunters it is our responsibility to hunt in an ethical and legal manner. The agent that you book with should be aware of the required documents for each animal in each country. You should know what will be required after your animal is harvested, so you can ensure that you are given the correct documents. The biggest advantage of using an agent is to ensure that you are using a reputable outfitter, who has access to the right grounds to be able to get you the animal that you desire, and to ensure that it is done legally. You can always come back on an agency but it is much harder to come back on a local outfitter in a country a long way away from your own.
Booking through an agent should not cost you more than booking direct, we work on a commission basis. But our knowledge and previous hunting experience in your locations can certainly help you to enjoy your hunt considerably more.
The author is part of the Real Big Five, the UK’s original worldwide hunting agency. www.realbig5.com